Politics & Government

Watchdog group hosts community discussion on state ‘ethics crisis’

Common Cause Georgia, a nonpartisan organization, hosted a public discussion Thursday night in Macon about overhauling the Georgia’s ethics commission.

“(The ethics commission is) the only body that polices our politicians and our public officials,” said William Perry, Common Cause Georgia’s executive director. “It’s an agency that has basically been broken for a long time. It has received more cutbacks than any other state agency over the last several years.”

A handful of residents and District 3 Commissioner Elaine Lucas showed up at the Macon-Bibb County Government Center to hear Common Cause’s ideas about reforming the ethics commission.

Some of those ideas included giving the commission more independence and authority to investigate any conflicts of interest of public officers. Perry also suggested independent funding -- a small percentage of Georgia’s annual fund automatically earmarked for commission operations -- and appointments of commissioners by Georgia Supreme Court justices.

After a short presentation, Perry solicited feedback from the Macon community.

“I think it’s a worthy cause,” said Lucas, but she also expressed doubt about getting lawmakers to increase oversight of themselves.

Since 2008, Perry said, legislators have cut back about 40 percent of funding for the commission.

“They’ve been completely unable over the last several years to do their work,” he said. What’s more, Perry points to “over $3 million in whistleblower settlements” that have been paid out because of the commission’s inadequacy and why this problem needs attention now.

Common Cause Georgia came to Macon, Perry said, because it’s at the “heart of Georgia,” and a lot of legislative leadership “vitally important to the balance of power” comes from here. The organization also held similar meetings in various cities across the state.

“When you’re a statewide organization promoting legislative action in Georgia you’ve got to be out and about in the state,” he said. “Macon has got to be one of your first stops.”

Perry hopes to get a question on the ballot by November 2016 to see if voters will support the types of reforms he’s suggesting.

To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382.